For Black History Month, we shed light on the intersection of race, neurodiversity, and mental health. Dive into the journey of a black autistic female entrepreneur navigating societal expectations, identity, and workplace inclusivity.
The Picture of Autism
When one mentions “autism”, what image comes to mind? Often, it’s not the picture of a black female entrepreneur—a formidable, influential individual who has dedicated her efforts, honed her skills, and achieved success in her field. This mismatch between public perception and reality leads to common, frustrating remarks like, “You don’t look autistic” or “Are you sure?”. Such comments underline society’s misunderstanding and limited definition of what autism looks like.
Mental Health vs. Autistic Burnout
Mental health, in its broadest sense, encompasses emotional wellbeing, psychological wellbeing, and social wellbeing. For the autistic Community, there’s an added layer of complexity termed ‘autistic burnout’, involving heightened sensitivities, challenges with executive functioning, and increased irritability. Unlike standard burnout, autistic burnout deeply affects sensory experiences and can be exacerbated by the continuous effort of masking one’s autistic traits.
Masking: The Emotional Armour
Masking is a defence mechanism many autistic individuals employ, consciously or unconsciously, to fit into a neurotypical world. It’s like donning an emotional armour to shield oneself from potential misunderstandings or judgements. The challenge arises when one contemplates removing this armour. For some, the hope is that doing so will lead to better treatment and understanding.
However, the concept of treating everyone the same is flawed. Every individual, neurotypical or autistic, has unique needs.
Listening is Crucial
Every day, my son Quincy expects porridge for breakfast, a routine he’s fond of. One morning, a change occurred: we ran out of porridge. Recognising the significance of this routine, I quickly informed him about the switch to toast. To an outsider, this might seem trivial. But for an autistic child, even a minor change can be significant. Listening and understanding are paramount. When autistic individuals communicate their needs, it’s essential to listen and respond appropriately. True inclusivity means providing everyone with what they need, not offering everyone the same thing.
Being Black, Female, and Autistic
Being a black autistic female introduces an added layer of complexity to identity and societal perceptions. Statistics show that black individuals, especially women, are less likely to disclose their autistic status. This might stem from fear of double discrimination or other societal pressures. By openly sharing their autistic identity, black female figures challenge stereotypes and pave the way for better understanding and acceptance.
For Black History Month, as we delve into topics such as mental health, emotional wellbeing, social wellbeing, and psychological wellbeing in the workplace, remember: true inclusivity isn’t merely a checkbox. It’s a series of actions, understanding, and continuous adjustments to the diverse needs of individuals. The path to inclusivity begins with listening, understanding, and responding to those who bravely share their stories and needs.
As a Black History Month motivational speaker, panellist, and keynote presenter on autism and neurodivergent topics, I am available for talks emphasising the essence of genuine inclusivity in every workplace interaction.